Sunday, June 30, 2013

"Rudd" by John Lawrence

I recently discovered the work of illustrator John Lawrence. I was perusing the children's section and discovered the delightful title This Little Chick, aimed at very young children. The images seemed old fashioned, and so I checked the publication date and when I saw the year 2001 I knew I'd found yet another illustrator who enjoys putting old fashioned techniques and styles in relief printmaking to new uses. Lawrence is briefly mentioned in Children's Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles, and there I read that the artist makes relief prints by engraving vinyl floor tiles and then uses those prints to make color collages. The collage part would explain the playful use of color in both This Little Chick and another children's title illustrated by Lawrence: Tiny's Big Adventure (written by Martin Waddell.) The overall composition of Lawrence's images are masterfully put together, and yet it is the complexity of the busy details that really keeps me looking deeper and longer at the work.

Doing further exploration online, I found some of Lawrence's black and white wood engravings, and that is what I present here. This is an illustration from the book Fish Calendar. What I noticed first in this and other images from that book was the separation of the fish from the fishers by scale, perspective, and composition. The fish are larger and dominate the center/bottom of the image, while the fisher is small and far away. The viewer ends up having a more intimate experience examining the varied and almost decorative details of the fish, while the person is obscured by clothing including a hat and his movement away from the viewer. Indeed, the busy textures everywhere distract from the human presence. The highlights of leaves on trees are speckles of light. Weeds of all kinds burst out from the water's edge. The water itself flows in an array of descriptive, parallel lines. But back to the fish. They are front and center and even framed by a magnifying glass. They are the small made large. My eyes mostly stay within the border of the circle, yet never stop darting around within it, for the specks and spikes and swirls and scratches demand movement. It is odd that these fish, who seem so still and probably dead, are made up of and surrounded by so much suggested animation. This is what I love about Lawrence's work. The line details are just as, if not more lively than the big picture. They create a fascinating microcosmos. And I feel there is some greater truth in that; truth in the idea that after the giant falls, the vast symphony of the world continues on without missing a beat.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Owl and Cat in Love, "Love At First Sight" (images 3 and 4)

"When Owl Saw Cat" and "When Cat Saw Owl"
Woodcuts (reduction)
Each is 11.25" x 11.75" (image), 15" x 16" (paper)
Oil based inks on Subi paper
Limited editions of 5 each

Here it is, the second double-page spread of my picture book Owl and Cat in Love. The moment the two first meet. (Over a very unlucky rabbit, as we shall see in the next double-page spread.)

Next week I have to take another little hiatus from this project to do some alternate prints for Cats A-Z, but I'll be back on this project after July 7th, so stay tuned!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Images of Rain and Solitude by Hasui Kawase

I have a love-hate relationship with rain, as I imagine most people do. It all depends on the context in which it falls. How wonderful are refreshing buckets of rain on summer evening after days of unbroken, intense heat. And how annoying is the downpour that suddenly erupts while one is walking from the train station to work and about to face a long day in the office in damp slacks and soggy shoes.

Hasui Kawase explored the many moods inspired by rain in his exquisite wood block prints. I've picked out five of them to write about here. I think this small selection shows off the range of meaning and emotion to be found in this climactic subject matter.

I start with the brightest, most cheery of my selections. Kasuga Shrine in Nara depicts a couple sharing a blue umbrella in the rain outside a shrine. The vivid, red trim of the shrine is complimented by several shades of green foliage. Everything appears clean, and I can imagine inhaling that fresh, outdoorsy scent that often accompanies a spring drizzle. The couple is turned away from the viewers, as if to emphasize that this is their private moment of togetherness.
Night Rain at Kawaraka Ibaraki presents quite a contrast. It is an image awash with greyish-blues. A heavy, slanted shower falls over a narrow, desolate, residential road, made more ominous by the wires overhead, the numerous smooth, slick stones that haphazardly line both sides. An small, empty boat dominates the foreground, the front jutting up, into the street and leading the eye toward the barely noticeable, lone figure in the distance. One hopes he is heading home, for the only other suggestion of any human presence are the windows of the houses, lit with warm, yellow light.
Rain at Shuzenja Spa uses a similarly monochromatic wash beset with yellow lights from the houses, except that here the overall color is warmer, more greyish-purple, and thus more inviting. Again, there is a single figure, but instead of walking in what seems to be a cool rain, this person appears quite cozy, immersed in a bath, under a protective roof, and illuminated by golden light. The spa is its own little island. It hovers over the river on stilts. A small, wooden bridge is all that connects it to land. I imagine the sound of the rain on rocks, roofs, and river as thoroughly soothing.
Rainy Night at Maekawa displays yet another lone figure. As in the second image, he is small and stands in the street made slick and reflective by the rain. Though here the street is wide and clear, and the figure is far more noticeable. The rain falls straight down, mirroring the person's posture and elongated reflections of light in the street. Somehow this person seems to enjoy being in the rain, though I'm hard pressed to explain why. Perhaps it is just the warmth from the soft browns and the gentle way the shadow in the foreground, trees, and houses curve around the person like an frame.
And finally, I come to Rainy Season at Ryoshimachi, Shinagawa, Tokyo. Here we have not one, not two, but three figures. Two are together on the sidewalk, their faces obscured a bright, blue umbrella. There is a strong suggestion of intimacy between them. The other figure walks across the bridge toward them, holding a muted yellow umbrella. The rain is slanted toward the couple. The figure on the bridge seems more like an afterthought. His reflection and that of the bridge are slightly faded and distorted beneath him.

So small are we. Some day our faces will all wash away, our colors go grey, and our voices be drowned out. Rain can cleanse what it touches, but it can also dissolve.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Images of Women in Water by Wendy Willis

Images posted with the permission of the artist. Learn more about her work on her blog Wendy Willis Printmaking.

With summer now fully upon us and temperatures rising, I found myself looking at these wonderful linocuts, mostly of aquatic life and people in or around swimming pools, by Wendy Willis. Willis's imagery is usually mundane in the literal subject matter (although she does occasionally delve into the surreal, such as with Honu Heart II which combines a human with a sea turtle), and yet through her use of color and how she depicts the ripples and underwater distortions, the final image appears otherworldly and full of mysterious, dramatic tension.

In Out of the Depths (above) a large woman wades with purpose toward something outside of the frame. Of course I first imagined her simply moving toward the edge of a pool to climb out (I can even see what appears to be a glimpse of side-wall tile in the top left corner), but something gives me pause and then leads me far beyond that interpretation. Because the image has been broken down to just these four colors, the woman seems more enveloped by the water. The shadow on her back extends beyond her body, then seems to break into a second long piece that drags behind her like a train. Her bottom half is entirely invisible, which is all the more jarring given the weighty volume of her arms and upper torso. The water itself seems ominous and volatile. Wild loops of white electrify the space where her legs would be. The grey keeps quiet so that the pinks can tickle and tease, and the dark greenish-blacks can screech like bats in a cave. Yes, there is the predictable push and pull of the waters' movements, but there is also a shattering of surface and light, and I cannot help but hear buzzing and zapping sounds. I am reminded to keep electrical appliances away from the bath tub.

Waterbug (left) depicts a similar subject, and yet conveys an entirely different mood. Here the woman is either completely under water or just her goggles, forehead, and the top of her head have emerged. While the goggles certainly emphasize an alien feel, it is really, again, the colors that pull the viewer into that realm. The vivid red-orange and cheery violet that make up her elongated form compliment each other like the palette of a tropical water lily. This image, like summer, is both hot and cool. The heat from the sun broken by a quick dip in the pool. This swimmer has left the warm, dessert brown behind, and is breaking from the green into the most refreshing and crystal clear blue. Unlike in Out of the Depths, here the woman is totally separate from the waters she swims in. She is a fire-colored aquatic angel darting through an aqua-blue abyss.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Lunch Break on the Piscataqua" by Shane Chick

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More artwork and handmade goods by the whole Chick family can be found at their Etsy Store, Chick Family Ink.

A heavy man with a heavy shadow looks out over the river. Drink in hand, he sits comfortably hunched-over among the rocks and mounds of grass-covered earth. Another person, a ways beside him still clutches a fishing pole, but this man, this one who dominates the center of the image, he is at rest. He stares out, lost in the moment of this very place without distracting thoughts. There is the natural beauty of looming clouds beyond the reassuring geometry of man-made structures in the distance. The man breaths softly in and out. This is where he is.

Monday, June 17, 2013

"Talelayu Opitlu (Talelayu With Owl)" by Kenojuak Ashevak

So far on this blog I have written about prints made by carving a block of wood, with the occasional linocut or wood engraving because those types of relief printmaking have traditionally been grouped together under the label of "woodcuts". However, in this post I'm writing about a technique of relief printmaking I had previously not encountered. Kenojuak Ashevak's relief prints are made from stone. This Inuit artist passed away in January of this year after decades of prolific art-making that included not only stonecut prints, but drawings, paintings, etchings, and even stained glass. The New York Times ran a thorough article about her life and career.

Kenojuak Ashevak is known best for her images of birds, especially owls. I am firmly convinced that much of people's fascination with owls is that with their frontal facing eyes (evolved for zeroing in on potential prey) make them seem more human. Here, an owl is portrayed alongside the mythological figure Talelayu. In Inuit mythology, Talelayu is a goddess who rules over the sea and creatures who live there. And so I am quizzocally drawn to this image. Why is an animal of the sky paired with a goddess of the sea? The owl's overgrown ears arch over stems of seaweed that wiggle like flames, while Talelayu's headdress reads like a blooming flower. Land and sea have come together and harmoniously stare out at us viewers. What are they thinking, so serene in their odd juxtaposition? What should we take from this meeting?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Owl and Cat in Love (Image 2)

"Cat Hunting A Rabbit"
Woodcut (reduction)
11.25" x 11.75" (image)
15" x 16" (paper)
Oil based inks on Subi paper
Limited edition of 5

Now that the Cats A-Z book is finished I have resumed work on Owl and Cat in Love, my purely visual re-telling of Edward Lear's poem "The Owl and the Pussycat"

Here we have page 2! The brown color for the rabbit and cat are brighter and more orange than I did for page 1 because I thought that first print was a bit darker than I wanted. One decision I might make for the final book version is to use the brighter brown for the rabbit in the foreground, and the darker brown for the owl/cat that are swooping/pouncing on their prey.

Thankfully we live in this wonderful digital age where I can modify the colors however I like after the fact. This gives me the flexibility to experiment more as I make each woodcut. If I find certain color combinations work better, I can go back and digitally make the changes to any previous images so that they all fit together in the finished book. Apparently this is becoming the norm for a lot of artists of my generation. The Japanese have a word which refers to change, but that also translates to "the sadness of things." But here we see that sometimes change is wonderful!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"A Blue Monster Under Moon" by Ayu Tomikawa

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More about Ayu Tomikawa and her art can be found at her Etsy Store.

The monster sleeps in teal over a rubbery glob. He is better lit than could be considered safe. Above him floats an ominous, yellow moon, which appears more like a celestial cat's eye. It is as if some inky-black, nocturnal predator has caught sight of easy pickings, and in the stillness and quiet of the night is taking her time.  Even monsters are vulnerable when they sleep.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Preview Drawing for "Owl and Cat in Love"

I'm back to working on my Owl and Cat in Love book, which will be a re-telling of Leer's poem The Owl and the Pussycat as a wordless picture book. My version has a unique title partially because I'm taking many liberties with the story. Really just using Leer's poem as a jumping off point. One major change is that the cat isn't a pussycat at all. She's a Margay. I wanted to use a wild animal that hunts prey similar to a Great Horned Owl because in my version they first meet while hunting the same rabbit. Margays were a favorite wild cat from my childhood, and because of their smaller size (I didn't want the owl to have a girlfriend too much larger than him) and gorgeous coat I decided to make my Cat a Margay.

These two drawings are done right on the blocks I'm about to start carving. I did them in pencil first and then went over in Sharpie. I normally do drawings on paper first and transfer, but for this set of prints I'm drawing right on the block and then doing four-color reductions. I took these photos and put them together to see how the  composition of this double-page spread would look. (I couldn't just look at the blocks together since the drawings are on either side of the same block.) This is the moment when Owl and Cat first meet, and the image is supposed to convey love at first sight. I think this gets that across, but I honestly can't really see my own work while I'm in the middle of the process. Hopefully in a week I'll be blogging about the final prints, and with the color and expressively-carved marked added those images will be much more powerful.

Friday, June 7, 2013

"Bathers Throwing Reeds" by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

The two men in showy postures seem to look back at me, while the two women standing still in the water look down. The women appear more isolated and absorbed in their banal activity, while the men are exhibitionists. I find myself wondering, because the figures are so abstract, if this difference in postures is why I assume the two in the background are women (the ones in the foreground are obviously men.) I conclude that my assumption about their sex is more based on the women's generous hips. I look longer, and I think, these colors are strange. What time of day could this possibly be? The sky is black, but the green ground and orange bodies seem lit by the sun. I'm excited by the other-worldliness of this roughly-carved-out, electric-lizard-green place. Why don't the women get involved in the performance? Maybe they are just too used to it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"Dolphin" by D.S. Wade

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More about D.S. Wade's artwork in a variety of traditional media can be found on her website.

This is one of those images that is so luscious and expressive that I can forget it is a woodcut and see it as an expressionist painting. I see splashes like fireworks, waves like folds in a great sheet, and the muscular form of the dolphin leaping seamlessly through air and water. White and coral-colored scratches tango with fluid sweeps of movement across the picture plane. If I look too long, I feel I cannot breath and must come up for air.